All Cheerleaders Die (USA, 2013)
Sometimes directors are moved to revisit their older films, expanding shorts into features, catering to an English-language audience afraid of subtitles or, as is the case with All Cheerleaders Die, stepping up to a bigger budget. There are a few notable examples from the horror genre. Mama started as a short film of the same name (and arguably should have stayed as one). The first second Ju-On film cannibalised enough footage from the first that it felt like a remake, even before Takashi Shimizu remade Ju-On: The Grudge in English. Ole Bornedal’s English-language reworking of his Nightwatch is an almost shot-for-shot remake, with added Ewan McGregor. The opening of Evil Dead II is pretty much a reworking of the first film. Eli Roth is apparently planning to reshoot Cabin Fever with the same script (which I can’t imagine making much difference to my opinion of it). And All Cheerleaders Die is a reworking of Lucky McKee’s low-budget 2001 film of the same name. As I’ve never seen the original, I’m taking the remake on its own merits, which are decidedly mixed.
Lucky McKee is a frustrating film-maker. His first feature, May, marked him out as a director to watch, but he has yet to really live up to its promise. His unflinching and discomforting adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s The Woman comes close, but his other work to date has often been flat and uninspiring. I wondered which McKee we’d get with All Cheerleaders Die: the strange, dangerous McKee or the plodding, safe one; the answer seems to be both.
If the entire running length of All Cheerleaders Die had the energy and playfulness of the second half, the film would be an utter delight. As it stands, it takes so long to get to the good stuff that it risks losing the patience of the audience. This is a shame, as the latter half is everything you could want from a film called All Cheerleaders Die: it’s bloody, funny and trashy, filled with great action and horror set pieces, and moves with a relentlessly brisk pace.
The somewhat overstuffed plot follows Maddy Killian as her attempt to make a documentary about her school’s cheerleading squad is curtailed by a tragic accident. We then jump forwards to the next school year, as Maddy joins the squad herself, but with a secret motive of revenge. We do not learn what inspired this plot until quite late in the film, a mystery which could have been used as a way to build suspense, but instead ends up feeling more like a subplot that has been sidelined in favour of more exciting developments. This is a shame, as the revelation, when it comes, adds some much-needed emotional depth.
These more exciting developments begin when she and the rest of the squad die in a car accident, while being chased by abusive football players. School weirdo Wiccan goth girl Leena, having discovered that she can control life and death using a bunch of colourful stones, resurrects both the cheerleaders and the film. This happens a little more than halfway through the running time, and marks the point where All Cheerleaders Die becomes the film I wanted it to be. From hereon, there is gore, comedy and excitement aplenty, as the cheerleaders discover their new vampiric natures, turning themselves into instruments of bloody revenge.
If the pacing of All Cheerleaders Die were more consistent, I would have no hesitation in recommending it. Expecting the audience to wait for things to get interesting is never a good idea, however. If I hadn’t been reviewing this film, I may well have given up before then. As things turned out, I’m very glad that I stayed with it. If the promised sequel comes to pass, I hope it picks straight up from the cliffhanger ending and keeps the momentum going.